Inside Erin Birgy's home, where she performs her morning spells, lives with 200 cactuses and stores her fake blood
Erin Birgy lives in a neighbourhood in north-east LA that she never thought she’d live in. “It’s so boujie and terrible, strollers everywhere,” she says of her first impression of her street. “It’s very quiet and all you can hear is lawnmowers every day, but there was a house open and I really needed a house.”
She had wanted to move out to the mountains, to Altadena where her best friend James Krivchenia lives (drummer with Big Thief and Mega Bog collaborator and co-producer). But some “pretty bad shit happened” at her previous LA home, involving a stranger in the house, so Birgy felt the need to have more friends close by. She has lived a more remote life with Krivchenia before, in New Mexico, where the pair rented a shack that was a four-hour drive from anyone else they knew.
Birgy is always moving around, and has been since her childhood in Idaho, where she grew up in a travelling rodeo, riding horses from school age like the rest of us do bikes, roping calves and mutton busting (bull riding for kids, with sheep). In her teenage years in Washington, shortly before she started her psych pop project Mega Bog, she wrote a column for punk magazine The Finger where she knocked on the doors of strangers with a box of tea until someone would let her in to interview them about their life. “It was really intense,” she says. “But, then, I wanted to be intense.”
She wrote her excellent new album End of Everything (out 19 May via her new label Mexican Summer) in a state of mind that its title suggests, with California was ablaze with wildfires, followed by the start of the pandemic. The death of musician David Berman in 2019 strangely resonated too, “and the everyday fascism that just sits on your face,” she says, “it got too much. There was just a lot of things in the air that summer which made me think we should all die; we should just be done; it’s time, and I should be gone as well. And just sitting with that feeling, not peacefully, but writing with that feeling and not wanting to do that – not wanting to cause an end, but feeling out of options in general.”
And yet End of Everything feels like Mega Bog at her most pragmatic – optimistic, even. It’s Birgy’s shortest album, its eight tracks propelled not by jazz-prog guitars as before, but fanfares of coldwave synths. “Even if we’re just dancing in that dark space, we will be dancing,” she says.
There are still similarities to the work of Cate Le Bon, Aldous Harding and US Girls, and we can continue to appreciate how Birgy has a knack for writing ambiguous alt-pop lyrics like few others who aren’t David Bowie can, but it’s the huffed melodrama of Future Islands’ that first comes to mind on End of Everything, Italo disco and even a touch of Tango In the Night era Fleetwood Mac. It’s all underlined – but never overblown – by Birgy’s gothic spirit and a love of camp horror that, halfway through our visit to her house, compels her to run a bath and cover herself in a pint of fake blood.
I have the house set up as a little library. And I’m even working on this little compilation book just to give to my friends to contextualise all of these references I’ve been referencing throughout the last year. Books are just great and I don’t think I abuse them, but I used to just have a rainbow of 50 books open on the floor with me in the centre, so recently I got the coffee table to keep everything clean and to make sure that there aren’t books all over the floor tripping people up and getting water spilt on them.
I’m releasing my own book with the album [The Practice of Hell Ending]. It’s technically separate to the record but it’s a companion. When we were talking about what I wanted to do when I joined the label, Mexican Summer were like, “So what’s your big dream right now?”, and I was like, “Well, I want to write a bunch of books and I want to make a bunch of films.” We did a lyric book with the last album, Life, and Another, and I wanted to level up, so I was thinking I’d take some of the poetry I was writing when I was writing the songs and make that into a book. But when we were wrapping up the mixing for the album, and I went to Greece, something lifted. I was writing nonstop and ended up submitting a manuscript that was 200 pages. We cut it down to 80, and it’s great. It’s poetry and a couple of photographs that are aligned with the poetry. All after the music. The Practice of Hell Ending.
Girls Against God by Jenny Hval
I’ve never worked with Jenny on a creative project but we talk a lot. We were pen pals through Covid having not met yet, and then she came to a show we played at a festival. We got close through letters and then met in the flesh. She asked me to give her her first tattoo. And then when I was having a hard time last summer in Greece I was like, “Um… can I just come to Oslo for a minute”, and we started watching Buffy and settled up. It was so healing because her home has a similar energy to what I feel in my home. She’s such a little horrific dude as well.
Roxy Music matchbook
I am very much a fan of both Roxy Music and matches. Brian Eno is huge. Just a very curious person who documents curiosity and his community pretty well too. I’ve always really admired that, because my community and friendships are what make me. It’s always strange to see who wants the recognition, and who wants the recognition in this weird little bubble [of Mega Bog]. And then Brian Ferry is just so hot! He presents the hottest person on earth, and I love that. Like, I can do that too! You just summon up all your best qualities and put them forward. I don’t like to do it absolutely, because I don’t want to hound through life, but some of those early live Roxy Music videos – they’re literally just wearing angel wings and capes. Fuck yeah!
When I moved to LA the second time, my friend Phil worked at the cactus store and I started visiting a lot. I have always gardened and loved it – it’s one of those amazing, connecting things you can do that also gives something to the world. I started to work at the store, and all the sick plants I would take home and put in my garden. That was my I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-during-lockdown project. And then I had to dig them all up when I moved here. It’s like 200 plants. It was kind of a feat. Cactuses are very present on a couple of songs on the album.
The surface level explanation for the skulls is I got them when I was visiting some friends fairly recently. I’ve been heavily into the mortal explanation – I mean, death is around, but also non-literal deaths – so I have a lot of semi-campy Halloween shit all over. But we were making a video with these three skulls this week and I had this reminder of this internet boyfriend I had when I was 15, and it got really crazy. They were a lot older than I was too; we met on vampirefreaks.com, the goth live journal, and they ended up buying a train ticket to come and live with my mum and I. And he sent me his journal, every page covered in his blood. I also had a boyfriend at the time, so I was like, “Joel – who painted the new album cover, so it’s all still connected – I cheated with you on this guy who’s going to come live with us now and I’m very scared.” Anyway, I got these skulls and thought, “Where is that guy!?” I never heard from him again, but I named all of the three skulls that came in a bag after this person. They’re all Jonathan.
I spend most of my day at my writing desk. I will have my coffee and walk over to the desk, and I have each notebook ready for different projects – journaling and poetry, video ideas, my thoughts about films I’ve been watching, structures and song, my Greek studies. I’m hyper organised and really take control of the space because that’s something I do have control over. I do a little bit of everything I like to do within the day, although at the moment I’m working on the next record, so it’s mainly music right now.
Bass guitar & lariat
I bought this bass as a gift for my friend in Greece. My friend Johnny was like, “I think I’m a bassist. I’m pretty sure that’s for me. I love bass.” I said, “Oh, do you have a bass? Do you play bass?” and he said, “No, I never have.” So I bought this bass for Johnny. It’s fucking sick. I think I have a healthy balance of nerding out on guitars and instruments. Before I was doing music fulltime I worked in a couple of music stores, and I do have a deep appreciation for very cool gear.
And I’ve also got a lariat hanging up there, which is a rodeo rope. It’s not my childhood rope, but I got this one on tour, when we stopped in a place in Wyoming. I was feeling very nostalgic and I think somebody asked if I could still do it. I was like, “Totally!”, so I had to buy it to prove it, and then we roped each other around the parking lot. I will forever be a cowboy.
I’ve been working on these videos for the new album for a year now, which are slowly rolling out. A lot of the filming styles and references come from slightly campier horror films, like I was watching Jubilee, the Derek Jarman film, the other night. I have my mini film studio in the garage that has the weirdest shit in it. My friend Zac, who plays on the record, we did a little improv show the other night, synth John Carpenter style, and I said, “How should we make this presentable? I think we should get IVs and be drawing each other’s blood and drink it at the end.” I ran into the garage and got my fake blood and medical tubes and we just pretended in the end. I like props that gutturally represent human mortality. The video that’s about to come out is so funny to me – there are monsters and fog, and I’m just having a lot of fun with it. That’s my MO – I’m not trying to destroy people with the horrors of my story and narrative, it’s very playful, and you can have a stranger come over and take photos of you in your bathtub covered in blood.
I’m not sure I have a word for what I do, but a lot of spells I perform require candles of different colours. A spell or a prayer. I do that as part of my morning routine. So I have a lot of the black candles out because they’re protective candles and I’ve been going deep into the horror world. I recycle all the wax too, and make more candles and do little carvings and cast them in silicone.